India’s war of words

The matter of breaking Pakistan’s jaw for causing India’s persistent toothache has been around for a while


Photo: AP
Photo: AP

And so, to India’s arsenal of responses to the attack in Jammu & Kashmir on 18 September that killed 18 soldiers.

It’s a relief that India’s armed forces and key policymakers in government do not plan their responses to sustain media hysteria. And that such decisions are not driven by Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Ram Madhav who, hours after the suicide attack by Pakistan’s proxies, railed, “For one tooth, the complete jaw”. The party’s one-time intellectual weight Arun Shourie had made the slogan his own for the first decade of this century, a mantra against Pakistan and its proxies, Maoist rebels, armed groups in Northeast India, collateral damage be damned.

This is an exaggeration of lex talionis or the law of retaliation. Rooted in the Hammurabic Code, it was later adopted into the Biblical credo of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and so on: a suggestion for Israelites to pursue proportionate justice, not Israel’s approach in Gaza.

Anyhow, the matter of breaking Pakistan’s jaw for causing India’s persistent toothache has been around for a while.

The 2009 Task Force Report on National Security and Terrorism, by lobby group Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), offered an early, public blueprint to stem Pakistan’s use of terror as foreign policy. The report, in the wake of jihadist attacks in November 2008 in Mumbai by Pakistani proxies, also had current national security adviser Ajit Doval as a core participant. It mapped several ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ options, a few of which have been articulated since 18 September.

The hard-options bouquet that carries the potential of retaliation by Pakistan and its free-range jihadi proxies began with “Inflict Economic Pain”: ban imports from Pakistan, stop over-flights, restrict travel. “Covert retaliation” called for “immediate” and “deniable covert actions inside Pakistan”. Another option was surgical strikes, particularly against “PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) terror camps”. The report claimed such action was “feasible” and “even legitimate” in the eyes of the United Nations’ charter by using the justification of being attacked or under imminent threat, and India’s forces should prepare with training and equipment and be entirely prepared to manage any “international disapproval”. Indeed, India should be “prepared for escalation of war with Pakistan”. After another Mumbai-like attack, the suggestion was to “launch an intense and limited attack on PoK”—but with specific “geographical objectives”, and calibrated to cease to “avoid escalation”.

The final point in the hard options category was to squeeze Pakistan by leveraging the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, which continues to be skewed in Pakistan’s favour, with the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab flowing into Pakistan from Indian territory; with India receiving only a fifth of the water from the Indus river system. (In a column in Mint on 20 September, Mending Pakistan’s behaviour , the analyst Brahma Chellaney suggested India turn the screws on Pakistan by jettisoning the treaty; hardly a matter of conscience as Pakistan has reneged on all bilateral treaties with India that sought to de-escalate or end conflict.)

Soft options in the Ficci report were generally downplayed. As sharing of specific terrorism-related intelligence with Pakistan would be refuted by Pakistan, better to take such evidence to the UN and find other ways to share it with the world in timely surges of goodwill hunting. Another suggestion was to increase interaction between the military leadership of the two countries, parallel to civilian contacts over culture, and what I call seminarism.

But none of this would have the impact, suggested the report, of isolating jihadis, causing “fissure within the jihadi groups”, destroying jihadi infrastructure, to “neutralise fundamentalist and terrorist leadership”, and to “disallow Pakistan to gain foothold in Afghanistan as it this will ultimately consume Central Asia in jihadi fervor”.

All of it assumed that India would need to factor in the veto power of China in favour of Pakistan in UN forums, and the “double standards” of the US that, on the one hand, criticized terrorism but fed Pakistan through military aid, and that in turn fed terror strikes and militarily deterrence against India.

“So far India’s reactions have been reactive and defensive”, concluded the document that showed glimpses of what is sometimes termed by media as the “Doval doctrine”. “India must make Pakistan realise that the use of terrorism against her will hurt itself more than India.”

In that forever project, India has mostly chosen a war of words, and diplomacy.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights in India and South Asia, will now run on Thursdays.

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